Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Cider Review: Redbyrd Orchard Cider's Wild Pippin

In October, I got an amazing opportunity to take part in a media and trade tour for cider in the Finger Lakes region. Taste NY (http://taste.ny.gov/) and the New York Cider Association (http://www.nycider.com/hardciderwine.htm) put this together. They did just a brilliant job. Even though I've been part of the cider industry of the Finger Lakes since I moved here in 2013, I feel like I learned so many new things about the cider production realities and possibilities unique to the Finger Lakes. Amazing!

This picture is of a row of the relatively young trees at Redbyrd Orchard Cider. These are being trained in the slender spindle style to encourage them to bear fruit early and grow in a relatively stable and secure way. It largely involves training the branches downward because branch position relative to the trunk of the apple tree gives signals to the tree about how much fruit to set. Interesting stuff. This farm is also focusing on biodynamic farming that involves other farm projects all being designed and chosen to mutually support one another, in this case chickens and sheep along with apple trees to create natural fertilizer, control pests, and feed livestock all at the same time.

But tonight's post isn't just to talk about what an educational (and tasty) time I had learning about local ciders. I actually want to talk about one specific cider that I tried from Redbyrd Orchard Cider: the Wild Pippin.  (You can connect with them on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RedbyrdOrchardCider.)

To zoom out a bit Redbyrd Orchard cider describes themselves as, "Cider made from sustainably managed orchards nestled in the beautiful Finger Lakes region of Upstate New York." The business belongs to a wife and husband team Eric Shatt and Deva Maas. Their website offers more information about their process and descriptions of all of their past and present ciders at http://redbyrdorchardcider.com/.  My own previous review of their Starblossom cider can be found here: http://alongcameacider.blogspot.com/2013/10/finger-lakes-cider-week-special-review.html.

Of everything I tried by Redbyrd Orchard Ciders, the cider that stood out the most to me by far. In fact, this stood out so much that it became my Thanksgiving cider.  Before I give my own impressions, let's take a look at the writeup by Redbyrd Orchard Ciders.
Wild Pippin is a rare and unique blend of 100% wild gathered apples.  Every year we search the country side around the Finger Lakes for wild apple trees that we feel will add complexity and “wildness” to our ciders.  This year we found plenty, and blended them into most of our ciders and made “Wild Pippin”, a crafted blend of sharp, and bitter sharp wild-grown seedling  apples.  We will likely graft and grow out the best of these varieties to plant in our orchard for future ciders.  Will the grafted clones act and taste the same as their wild parents? After primary fermentation we aged the cider in French oak barrels just long enough to integrate this nice rustic character into the cider.  We finished the cider with an in bottle secondary fermentation to add elegant and creamy carbonation to balance its wild acidity…enjoy!!    pH 3.5,  approx. TA 0.8, RS 0.0%, 8.2% alc/vol    Bottle Conditioned
I'm thrilled to see this much information in a cider description, especially specifics like residual sugar (often abbreviated to RS) and total acidity (TA for short) and pH in addition the alcohol by volume. These numbers indicate to me that I should expect a completely dry cider, with some lively acidity and a relatively high alcohol level. What I don't know is what notes the wild apples will impart or how a short period of time in french oak will affect the cider.

Appearance: Robust butternut squash color, bubbles, brilliant

I'm afraid this picture does not do the cider justice, but in all of the hubbub of preparing for Thanksgiving Dinner, I didn't have time for a full photo shoot. You can see tons of very fine bubbles all along the glass and many moving within the cider. No haze to speak of. The cider is a rich yellow orange very reminiscent of uncooked butternut squash.

Aroma: Spicy! Herbal!

Whoa! Both times I've had this cider, I noticed the savory nature of the aromas immediately. It doesn't smell like fruit, it smells like herbs and spices. Very interesting and different.

Dryness/Sweetness: Bone dry yet flavorful

0.0 Residual sugar does not lie. There isn't any sweetness going on here. But, counter to many expectations, lack of sugar does not mean lack of intense flavor. But let's not get ahead of ourselves.

Flavors and drinking experience: Peppercorns, squash, grapefruit and more spice

Complex and unusual doesn't even begin to describe how truly wild this cider tastes. The predominant flavor for me is peppercorns. It is spicy and savory all the way. After that, I can begin to taste grapefruit, squash, lemon, poppyseed, fennel, and just a raw zesty green-ness. The bottle conditioning comes across clearly in how fine and intense the bubbles are. The acidity is strong but not out of control. But I cannot emphasize enough that this cider tastes savory.  

What I find hard to describe is how balanced the Wild Pippin tastes while still being so feral and distinctive. I absolutely adore this cider. It really pushes our perceptions and expectations about cider while at the same time being drinkable and incredibly pleasing.

As for how this paired with Thanksgiving? Excellently and just as I'd hoped. A very bubbly cider cuts through the richness of many traditional Thanksgiving dishes like mashed potatoes, turkey (for meat eaters), and buttery sauteed mushrooms. Acidity further extends the lightening and brightening effect of this cider which pairs well with my cold cranberry relish.